Once my radiant flower, Amelica, was gone, I concentrated on eating my lunch. Everyone else, aside from the glutton known as Bila, was nursing his or her respective tankard of honey mead. I was keenly aware of the enormous courtesy that my fellow patrons at The Noble Lady were extending me by not asking my companions to leave their seats during the busy lunch period. Thus, I decided that I was finished eating after 10 minutes, despite some food remaining on my plate. I took two big gulps of my drink and then left 30 silver pieces on the table to cover the meals and drinks.
As I left the common room, I waved at Yanbrie and Amelica; they were standing on the other side of the room.
The two waved back and returned to their work.
I waited in the lobby while my bodyguards, Van and Bila, scouted outside to ensure there were no assassins awaiting me. I also checked with my Spirit Sense and found nothing of concern.
When my party exited from The Noble Lady, I pointed in the southeastern direction. That was the way to the bridge to leave this town.
Van nodded. He led our group south for two blocks and then turned east.
As we walked, I started thinking about my relationship with Amelica and my brief visit to Tregome. To be frank, this place felt like a second home to me. As a frontier town, the residents faced constant danger from beyond the wall to the north and west. Life in Tregome was harder compared to living in a city like London. There were fewer available resources, including guards, and people had to be more self-reliant for their personal protection.
Furthermore, there was a noticeable difference between life in a city and a small town. In the big, bad city, one could live his life in perpetual anonymity. Whereas life in a small town, it was like going to the bar at Cheers, where everybody knows your name. Privacy was relatively lacking. That being said, life in Tregome certainly had its own charms and now that I had access to the Recall spell, I will seriously consider making Tregome my base of operations.
Also, there was another benefit to making Tregome my home base: the opportunity to see Amelica every day. I enjoyed having a loving relationship with Amelica. There was nobody like her back home. I lived alone and spent my time either writing or playing computer games. I was not socially inclined, to put it mildly. You would never catch me sitting in a bar trying to pick up a lady with a cheesy line. Was I prepared to give up my life here, on Earth 2, in order to return to my old life on Earth 1? And if the answer was "no," then should I give up my candidacy for the crown?
I recognized that I was thinking some rather dangerous thoughts. The very reason that the Gamemaster had brought me here, to Earth 2, was for his entertainment a la The Truman Show. And the Gods were obligated to interfere with my life in order to keep the overlord entertained. Thus, I reached the conclusion that I had to continue forward in my quest, or else the Gamemaster will eliminate me from the game and bring in a new contestant to entertain him.
My party continued walking toward the east until we heard and then encountered the river, which was running from north to south in front of us. Another block or two southward, there was a stone bridge.
"We need to cross that bridge," I said while pointing at it.
The paladin headed for the bridge and then we crossed it. On the other side was a yellow brick road, which we simply followed along until we saw the Village of Kalistro.
I was very impressed by what I saw. It had been maybe a week since the school was evicted from Tregome and forced to relocate. The students at the school had obviously worked hard to set up the dojo. The trees had been chopped and turned into lumber to build the dojo. While it was not as big as the original dojo back in Tregome, the new dojo had a raised, wooden platform and the building was approximately 60 feet (length) by 20 feet (width) by 15 feet (height).
Next to the dojo was a courtyard where some students were practicing their swordplay. In addition, I noticed a small stone pond on the right side of the courtyard; it was obviously the new home of Mof, Kalistra's pet catfish. I pitied whoever had the unenviable task of bringing the oversized catfish across the bridge. It was probably a shocking experience (pun intended).
In front of the courtyard were the two stone guardians, which were formerly located in front of the entrance of the stone wall surrounding the old dojo. Somehow, the school was able to bring these heavy statues to the new village. I suspected it was a less painful experience to carry these inanimate statues compared to bringing Mof.
Surrounding the dojo and the courtyard were two handfuls of simple huts, made of wood, stone, and straw. And near them were small plots of fields for raising crops. However, there were no horses, chickens, pigs, or other farm animals.
A group of students carrying scabbards soon approached my party. When they saw and recognized my face, the students immediately lowered their heads. "Welcome to the Village of Kalistro, Brother Mulligan," the leader of the patrol greeted.
I bowed to him, a cat man with orange and white fur whose caption named him as "Xander." "Is the Headmaster here?" I asked.
Xander nodded. "She is inside the dojo. I can take you to her," he offered.
"Please do," I accepted.
My party followed Xander across the courtyard. As we passed by the students, they paused and bowed to me.
I was quite surprised by the respect that I was being shown because it was only a few weeks ago when they were laughing at me as I trained under the merciless Kalistra. But then I remembered that I had defended the dojo when Hleandros the red dragon challenged the school. I guessed that I had gained tremendous respect in the eyes of my fellow students in the school for this reason.
When we stood before the dojo, Xander turned around and looked down at our feet. "Please remove your shoes," he reminded us.
My party quickly obeyed and we placed our shoes on the ground.
Satisfied with our collective obedience, Xander stepped on the platform. He opened a door and entered the dojo.
When I stepped inside, I heard the clash of wooden practice swords and grunts of students. I looked around the room and saw that Kalistra was slowly walking around and correcting the forms of her pupils as they practiced sword techniques.
Kalistra soon noticed my entry into the training hall. Her long tail swaying behind her, the white-furred cat girl crossed the room with a natural grace and soon stood in front of me.
I bowed deeply to her and said, "I have returned, Headmaster."
"So I see," she replied with a neutral facial expression.
Suddenly, I received a party request from her. When Dovarata left my group and returned home, Hleara had released me from her party. I quickly clicked "Yes" and joined Kalistra's party.
"Show me your player status," Kalistra ordered.
I obeyed and waited patiently while she examined my status report closely.
Kalistra spent an enormous amount of time checking my attribute scores and my skill levels in my sword techniques. She was somewhat disappointed that my skill levels weren't very high. In fact, she suspected that I had stopped using sword techniques in favor of my spells. The headmaster resolved to remind me of the benefits of swordsmanship. "Why did you come here?" she asked a few minutes later.
"I would like to receive additional instructions from you. I'm hoping to learn an advanced sword technique before I leave," I answered honestly.
The Headmaster's ears and whiskers twitched. What was the point of learning a new technique if I wasn't going to use it? The cat girl resisted a temptation to hiss at me. "How long do you plan to stay here?" she asked.
"Just long enough for my magic instructor to advance to the next level," I replied.
Kalistra pointed a paw at Rijana. "Her?" she asked.
"Yes," I confirmed.
Finally, the cat girl turned her attention away from me. Her pale yellow-green eyes examined the enchanter inquisitively. "How much XP do you need? she asked.
"About 800 points," Rijana replied.
Kalistra's tail swayed back and forth as she considered the request. "Very well. I shall help you reach the next level. You will practice defending yourself against attackers with swords. You will be charged 50 gold pieces for your training."
Rijana's brows rose at the high training fee demanded by the cat girl. However, the mage knew that time was of the essence and she needed to advance to the next level ASAP. Additionally, she sorely needed to train her melee skills. Training with the dojo will help her accomplish both in a short period of time. She sighed and nodded in agreement.
The greedy cat girl reached out with her paw.
The enchanter opened her sack and searched inside. Finally, she took out a white gemstone. "This stone is worth 50 gold coins," she said.
Kalistra looked directly into Rijana's eyes. "You are now an official student in my school," the Headmaster said as she took the stone and stored it in a pocket. Finally, the cat girl turned her attention to the rest of my companions. "Does anyone else wish to train in my dojo?" she asked.
My party members immediately shook their heads. 50 gold coins were a tremendous amount of money to pay for training. None of them could afford it.
"Okay," the cat girl nodded. "Unfortunately, my village does not have an inn right now. You will have to sleep outdoors," she noted.
"That's fine," Bjoukia replied.
Her brother, Bjoukin, nodded in agreement. As lovers of nature, the elves preferred to sleep in the woods over manmade huts, anyway.
Kalistra turned her attention back to me and Rijana. "Your training will start right now. Please leave your travel gear with your companions," she ordered with a grin. "Your friends will be touring the village," she added. In other words, she was ordering them to leave the training hall.
"Yes, Headmaster," we bowed.
I took off my messenger bag, my potions bag, and my spellbook pouch, and handed them to Van. I kept my butterfly adorned scabbard.
Rijana passed her own set of bags to Bjoukin. But she retained her staff, which was held in a holder on her backpack.
Kalistra's eyes stared at the staff and she grinned. "Do you know how to use it?" she asked innocently.
The mage returned the cat girl's stare. "Somewhat," Rijana replied ambivalently.
The cat girl's tail flickered. "No matter. You shall be tested by my students." She grinned again. The headmaster looked around the training hall. She was trying to decide who to use as the mage's training partners. Finally, she came to a decision. "Come this way," Kalistra said and started walking.
We followed her to the northern part of the room.
I noticed that in the right corner, there was a small door. It was probably an inner sanctum for meditation. There was a similar room in the old dojo back in Tregome.
Kalistra held up her hand and the students stopped their practice. She pointed at a group of six students. "I want the six of you to train with this mage. Challenge her to duels using the 3-hits format. Start by fighting her one-on-one. After she wins a match, fight two-on-one. And then continue to increase until it's six-on-one," she ordered.
One of the students laughed out loud. "I don't think she will be winning any duels against us."
"Care to wager?" Kalistra replied. Her ears and whiskers twitched.
"Um, no," the braggart shook his head. With money involved, he was no longer as confident.
The headmaster clapped her paws. "Let's get started!" she barked.
One of the students approached and held up his practice sword.
Rijana held her staff with both hands.
Kalistra stepped between the two. "Begin!" She immediately hopped back.
The boy yelled and charged with a high strike aiming for Rijana's head. "HIYA!"
The mage, however, remained calm. Using the superior reach of her own weapon, she jabbed one end of the staff into her opponent's chest.
"URK!" the boy blurted out in surprise. Dropping his weapon, he clutched his chest and began to experience difficulty breathing.
"Hit!" the referee acknowledged.
However, the pupil made no effort to retrieve his sword.
"Do you forfeit this match?" Kalistra asked in a harsh tone of voice.
The boy nodded. His chest was on fire!
"Very well. Winner--Rijana!" Kalistra grabbed the winner by the wrist and raised Rijana's hand. The headmaster's head turned slowly and stared at the remaining challengers. "This is what happens when you foolishly look down on an opponent. Even though she is a mage, she has clearly demonstrated her ability to use the staff to defend herself. Now, I hope the rest of you will give her the respect that Rijana deserves and take her seriously. Otherwise, all of you WILL lose your matches against her."
Kalistra looked at the student who had forfeited. His name was Tant and he had an arrogant attitude toward those who weren't swordsmen. "Tant, please leave the hall," she ordered. The boy was too injured to continue the training exercise with Rijana.
The boy tried to bow but the pain in his chest prevented it.
I finally intervened and raised my hand. "I'll heal you," I said. I touched his chest gently and cast Minor Heal. "Minor heal SUCCESSFUL. +10 Health, -10 Mana, +25 XP."
"Thank you," Tant said as he took a deep breath.
"Since you've been healed, you can take your punishment now. 50 laps around the village!" Kalistra ordered. "Go!" she said while pointing at the door.
"Yes, Headmaster!" the boy bowed deeply and ran out of the training hall. Tant didn't want to lose more face than he had already.
The cat girl turned her attention back to the group. "The rest of you will continue with your matches against her. This is a good opportunity for you to test your moves against an unknown and unfamiliar opponent!"
"Yes, Headmaster!" the five students barked in unison.
Kalistra nodded in satisfaction and finally turned her attention to me.
Uh-oh. I waited patiently to learn my fate.
The cat girl's eyes glowed and she smiled at me. "We've never had a practice match before, have we?" she asked innocently.
"No, we haven't," I admitted. At first, my training under Kalistra's supervision was focused on bringing my physical conditioning up to the dojo's high standards. Then, I trained under the late Kalistro to learn some sword techniques to use at the annual Melee Tournament. After that, Kalistra served as my bodyguard during our travels and we never crossed swords.
"Let's go outside," she ordered.
I groaned inwardly. I was not looking forward to this match. Kalistra was extremely deadly due to her insanely high critical attack rate. Compounding the matter, her critical damage dealt 4x the normal damage. If she lands one critical hit on me, I'll be dead.
Thankfully, I had Sisterly Waverly as a companion now. The nun will be able to resurrect me if Kalistra's bloodthirst goes overboard and she kills me by mistake.
Kalistra led me to the courtyard. She clapped her paws and her students stopped their practice. "I need more space. You can resume your practice after my practice match is over," she said.
The students immediately became excited by this announcement! They rarely had the pleasure to watch the Headmaster engage in a practice match with anyone.
I noticed Sister Waverly standing near one of the huts. "I may need your healing," I yelled at her.
The nun jogged over. Soon, the rest of the party joined her as well.
"Any bets on how long he'll last?" the students started placing wagers with each other.
"Who's going to be the referee?" a boy asked.
Bila approached us. She bowed deeply to Kalistra. "May I serve as the referee?" she requested.
Kalistra looked at the tall cat girl with yellow fur. Kalistra had made Bila her successor as my bodyguard. And Kalistra was impressed that I returned to the village safely. "Yes," she answered.
Bila's tail dangled happily behind her.
I unbuckled the scabbard from my belt and I held the scabbard in front of my chest.
Kalistra mirrored my form.
The referee stepped between us. "This duel with be a 3-hit match. Begin!" Bila hopped back.
Our scabbards clashed instantly. *BANG*
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Bio: Antony W.F. Chow enjoys the intellectual challenge of writing in various lengths from flash fictions to short stories to novellas and full-length novels, and his extensive bibliography is available on the Amazon Kindle eBook store. He is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He resides in the hometown of the NY Mets and awaits the day when his baseball team plays meaningful games in October again.